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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Liberal Democrat MPs should revolt on Tuiition Fee vote

The Welsh Education Minister was undoubtedly right when he told the Assembly Plenary yesterday that removing the cap on university fees in England ‘could leave Wales in an impossible financial position’

Although policy on this matter is devolved to the National Assembly the cross-border nature of the sector means changes to the system in England will impact on Wales. If English universities are able to charge tuition fees in the region of £7,000 a year, then Welsh colleges have little choice but to follow suit. If they don't then not only would the existing funding gap between English and Welsh institutions widen but the colleges themselves would fall behind in terms of attracting top quality staff, students and research.

Where I do take issue with the Education Minister is in the crocodile tears he shed in the chamber yesterday. He claimed that proposals to remove the cap on tuition fees in England would create a “unsustainable” market-based system that would prize cost over quality. He went on:

“Central to our policy is the principle that access to HE should be on the basis of the individual’s potential to benefit, and not on the basis of what they can afford to pay.

“We do not wish to see the development of a market in HE where institutions compete on price and students choose their courses or institutions on the basis of relative cost."

He added that the cost to Wales of the additional fees could be as much as £70 million a year.

There are many in the sector who would argue that this £70 million a year represents the amount that Labour and Plaid Cymru were underfunding the sector anyway, so I am not going to join the Minister in bemoaning that expenditure. However, his condemnation of a market economy in higher education just takes the biscuit.

After all it was Labour who first introduced a market economy in higher education through the introduction of variable tuition fees, which has already led to many courses closing because they are not economic. The latest subject under threat is modern languages at Swansea University because, as the Pro Vice Chancellor told me in a letter I received today, it is 'financially unsustainable'.

I agree with the Minister when he says that a £7,000 a year tuition fee will hit students hard but that does not mean I have to put up with rank hypocrisy as well.

Having said all that, I do acknowledge that the Liberal Democrats are in a difficult position. Of all the parties we have consistently opposed tuition fees and argued for a free education system. We now find a Liberal Democrat Minister proposing to lift the cap on fees on the basis of a review commissioned by the previous Labour Government, despite the party arguing at the election that we would not do so.

No doubt, Vince is following the logic of the economic position both for the HE sector and the UK as a whole, but there comes a time in government when you have to make a stand and just be downright unreasonable so as to assert your principles and your policy position. This is that time.

I would urge therefore that every Liberal Democrat MP should follow the party's conscience and vote against this change. With luck and a following wind we can defeat the doubling of tuition fees. The proposal deserves to sink without trace and the government sent back to the drawing board. Let us ensure that it is the Liberal Democrats who make that happen.
"Let us ensure that it is the Liberal Democrats who make that happen."

Fingers crosses.

But, as a warning, if is DOES get through, then "it is the Liberal Democrats who made that happen" too. Do you want that legacy?
Clearly not! We will take responsibility for what we do just as Plaid must take responsibility for their betrayal of students in Wales.
"Welsh institutions widen but the colleges themselves would fall behind in terms of attracting top quality staff, students and research."

Respectfully, that has already happened. Wales doesn't have a single university in the top 200 Times Higher Education World University Rankings - Scotland has four in the top 200.

Universities in former third-world countries now outrank Welsh universities.

The rate of 'job-creating-patents' ("JCPs") coming out of Wales's top universities is is is ... 'plain bad'.

How many issued patents does the ILS (Institute of Life Sciences) have in the largest economy/market for patented goods/services?

Tens of millions invested in a supercomputer and simpler computer simulations at MIT has resulted in world-beating patent applications. Last time I looked Swansea has about the same number or more students than MIT.

How can one university, a fraction of the size of all the universities in Wales combined generate thousands of issued patents and totally outclass all of the universities in Wales combined.

Whatever university model WAG is using - IT AIN'T WORKING.

Welsh universities are falling behind - Wales exists in a global economy, Wales must compete and compete well, with the global economy. Welsh universities spend a small fortune on research, but very little of it ends up in JCPs.

WAG is still thinking in terms of the old British Empire - that we have a duty to help the rest of the world even though an increasing portion of the rest of the world is leaving Wales behind.
Peter - I absolutely agree with you. Having now digested it I don't think the Browne report is entirely without merit (raising the threshold for repayment to 21K is a good move as is including part-time courses). Liberal Vision have an interesting take on this http://www.liberal-vision.org/2010/10/12/three-cheers-for-the-browne-review/
I'm from a poor family and was on free school dinners - but even with that background I am not sure the Lib-Dems, being the elites that many of them are, are correctly extrapolating. Take this issue that Welsh colleges 'would fall behind in attracting quality staff, students, research" - what twaddle. The Vice Chancellors are on a huge rate of pay regardless - why? Welsh colleges are not generating revenues/income streams from their IP - because for the most part they are patent averse. Welsh colleges are ALREADY behind - well behind Scotland and well behind former third world nations in S.E. Asia, and there is VERY LITTLE prospect of Welsh colleges catching up on the technical front.

I say, impose higher fees on humanities students - 'what are they good for?" (When Two Tribes Go to War).

Seriously, what are humanity hippies good for in terms of job generation in Wales?

Concentrate the increased fees on developing techno departments - the Welsh economy needs spin-outs in the techno arts (not just 'the six' that are giving the Deputy First Minister hot-flushes.

The Welsh economy is going down the tubes relative to S.E. Asia economies - as the excuses (I was going to say BS, opps, this CH kid has said it anyway) pile up in the WAG - Wales is sinking.

Obama isn't 'helping none' - but hey, the USA has plenty more arrows to sink into competitor flesh soon as President Obama with zip small/large business experience loses at least one-half of Congress and his ridiculous anti-business cap 'n trade policy is bounced into touch.

There, if this post doesn't provoke some of you elitists into a fast debate ...
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